“A good effect in worrying the enemy”: Demonstrations on the Stono and Edisto Rivers, January 1865

Earlier this week I mentioned several demonstrations that took place along the coast of South Carolina in the last days of January 1865.  One of these demonstrations lead to the loss of the USS Dai Ching.  Less costly, and more important to the overall Federal efforts, were two demonstrations which for all practical purposes were “showings.”  The operations on the Stono and Edisto Rivers were indeed “demonstrations” in every sense of the word.

The Stono River demonstration evolved from a request by Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig.  Throughout January the Federal outposts behind Morris Island reported increased Confederate activity.  The fear was the Confederates were setting up new batteries on James Island.  Due to Schimmelfennig’s reduced garrison manpower, he requested a gunboat venture up the Stono River.  The first attempt, on January 24, failed outright, as “the permission to do so having been sent by Admiral [John] Dahlgren through the signal corps in the common code, the enemy was informed of our intention….” Though enough information was gleaned to verify no new batteries were in place, the Federals felt the need to put more pressure on the Confederates on James Island.


On January 28, the gunboat USS Commodore McDonough tried the Stono again.  Lieutenant-Commander Alex F. Crosman, commanding, reported:

… I went up the river as far as the point of woods about 3,000 yards from Fort Pringle, with which work I exchanged numerous shots.

Most of my shell fell inside of the work, and Pringle replied with but two heavy guns, which I am confident were smoothbore.  Not a shell exploded near me, but though some of the enemy’s shot were very fairly directed. They were all, I think, solid shot.

Feeling the woods occasionally as I moved up with shell and grape, I sent the boat’s crew ashore and burned successively the Legaré’s house and the house and outbuildings on the wooded points in whose vicinity the Pawnee lay last July.

Crosman remained at arm’s length from the Confederate batteries.  The houses on James Island again suffered (nearby Legareville being burnt the previous summer).  He reported expending twelve IX-inch shells, thirteen 6.4-inch Parrott rounds (shell and case shot), twenty-four 50-pdr Dahlgren shells, two stands of IX-inch grapeshot, one 6.4-inch canister, and one 24-pdr howitzer canister.  The use of grape, canister, and case shot to “feel” the woods near the shore was a standard tactic for the gunboats when in close proximity to Confederate lines.  Summing up his activities, Crosman noted:

I am convinced there are no new works on John’s Island, and also that Fort Pringle is not so formidable as it was in July last.  No torpedoes are in the river yet, as I went up purposely at dead low water to endeavor to discover them.

While Crosman probed the Stono, further to the west on Edisto Island, another expedition, this one a joint Army-Navy operation, tested Confederate defenses in that sector.  Major-General John Foster ordered Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter “… to proceed to Edisto Island, and with the Thirty-second U.S. Colored Troops, already landed there, to make a strong demonstration towards Willstown, on the South Edisto River….”   Knowing the Confederates retained significant garrisons guarding the railroad and roads between Willstown and Adams’ Run, Foster hoped this would distract from the Salkehatchie.  Major-General William T. Sherman would approve and add that the demonstration should look as “a lodgement seemingly to cover the disembarkation of a large body.”

Unlike the demonstration mounted in July 1864 in the same area, Potter was directed to move by way of Jehossee Island.


However, when he arrived at Edisto Island, Potter had second thoughts about that route.  Instead, after conferring with Commander George B. Balch, commanding the naval forces operating in the North Edisto, Potter decided to move by way of White Point Landing. This, of course, put Potter’s force directly against some of the Confederate defenses which stalled Federal advances the previous July.  So on the evening of January 29, the 32nd USCT moved up river to that place under cover of the USS Sonoma, USS Pawnee, and USS Daffodil.  Reporting on January 30, Balch wrote:

At 8 a.m. this morning, at General Potter’s request, we opened fire for an hour, at the expiration of which time his troops advanced, accompanied by a light 12-pounder of the Sonoma.  There has been occasional firing from the howitzer and the infantry, but not heavy enough to lead one to suppose that the enemy is in strong force.

Potter simply intended to get the attention of the Confederates then fall back to White Point.  After advancing a short distance, they ran up against a well positioned battery.  By 7 p.m. the force was back at the landing and embarking back on the ships.  To cover the activity on land, Balch sent the tug Daffodil up Dawho Creek.  He’d also posted the Sonoma upriver.   “I believe this movement of General Potter will have a good effect in worrying the enemy,” Balch reported.

Potter’s force remained on Edisto Island the next few days.  A provisional brigade of around 1,400 in number formed under Potter.  Two other regiments, the 55th Massachusetts and 144th New York, joined  the 32nd USCT.  Over the next few days these troops would make the impression desired – of an advanced covering force preceding a landing.

But for all the fluster, these demonstrations appear to have little impact on the Confederates.  Instead it was the crossing of the Savannah River at Sister’s Ferry that had their attention.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1013; Part II, Serial 99, pages 140 and 151; ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 204 and 206.)

Guns pointed at Sherman: Confederate artillery dispositions in South Carolina, January 1865

Colonel Ambrosio José Gonzales served as the Chief of Artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida through much of the war. Gonzales was an exiled Cuban revolutionary when the war began, living in South Carolina.  And of course, at the onset of hostilities, he volunteered his services to the seceded state.

I’ve mentioned this interesting officer on several occasions while plotting the 150th events – most often in regard to his periodic reports of ordnance available to defend Charleston and other points in the department.  On January 19, 1865, Gonzales submitted one such report.  The timing provides a snapshot of the Confederate defenses opposing the Federal offensive into South Carolina.

The report was complied in a tabular format, making it difficult to reproduce here without a lot of white space and tabs.  So I’ll break down the particulars in a “fort by fort” format below.  Most of these works I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, so I’ll ask you to look back at some of those for particulars of the defensive arrangements.  Working, as the report did, from north to south through the department, we start with the defenses north of Charleston:

  • Battery White, protecting Georgetown, South Carolina, contained three rifled 32-pdr guns, six 24-pdr smoothbore guns, two rifled 12-pdr guns, one 12-pdr siege gun, and one 6-pdr field gun. The report thus indicates the 10-inch columbiads placed there earlier in the war had been removed by January 1865.
  • Battery Warren, on the Santee River had one 12-pdr rifle and one 32-pdr smoothbore.

Around Charleston itself, starting with the works on Sullivan’s Island:


  • Battery Marshall – two 8-inch columbiads, one 7-inch Brooke rifle, one 32-pdr rifle, two 12-pdr rifles (one of which was the old English gun), a 4-inch Blakely rifle, three 8-inch seacoast howitzers, and one 12-pdr siege gun.
  • Two Gun Batteries, four in total, with four 32-pdr and four 24-pdr smoothbores.
  • Battery Beauregard – one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch rifled columbiad, one 8-inch columbiad, three 8-inch seacoast howitzers, two rifled 32-pdrs, one 32-pdr smoothbore, two 24-pdr smoothbores, and three 10-inch mortars.
  • Battery Rutledge -three 10-inch columbiads and one rifled columbiad (8 or 10-inch).
  • Fort Moultrie – four 10-inch columbiads, two rifled 8-inch columbiads, one rifled 32-pdr, and one 10-inch mortar.
  • Battery Marion – three 10-inch columbiads, a 7-inch Brooke Rifle, one 8-inch columbiad, and five 10-inch mortars.
  • Battery Bee – one XI-inch Dahlgren, one 10-inch rifled columbiad, four 10-inch columbiads, and one 8-inch columbiad.

Behind Sullivan’s Island were the defenses of the Christ Church District:

  • Battery Evans – one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Palmetto – one IX-inch Dahlgren.
  • Battery Gary – two 8-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Kinloch – one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Christ Church Lines – two 20-pdr Parrott rifles, two 8-inch shell guns and two 24-pdr smoothbore guns.

Fort Sumter’s armament at this point was one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch rifled columbiad, and four rifled 42-pdrs in those “three gun batteries.” Castle Pinckney contained four 10-inch columbiads and one 7-inch Brooke rifle.

Defending the city of Charleston itself were a formidable array of batteries along the waterfront:

  • Battery Waring – two 10-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Ramsey (White Point Battery) – one XI-inch Dahlgren, one 12.75-inch Blakely, one 42-pdr rifle, and three 10-inch columbiads.
  • Frazer’s Wharf Battery with one 12.75-inch Blakely.
  • Calhoun Street Battery with one rifled 8-inch columbiad.
  • Vanderhorst’s Wharf Battery with one 7-inch Brooke rifle and one 42-pdr rifled gun.
  • Half-Moon Battery with one 42-pdr rifle and one 32-pdr rifle.
  • Spring-Street Battery – one 10-inch columbiad.
  • Battery over the Ashley – one 10-inch columbiad.

On James Island, the fortifications still bristled with guns defending that approach to Charleston:


  • Battery Wampler – two 10-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Harleston – three 10-inch columbiads, one 7-inch Brooke rifle, and one 6.4-inch Brooke rifle.
  • Battery Glover – three 8-inch rifled columbiads.
  • Fort Johnson – two 10-inch columbiads, one rifled 10-inch columbiad, one rifled 8-inch columbiad, one 7-inch Brooke Rifle, and two 24-pdr Austrian howitzers.
  • Battery Simkins – two 8-inch columbiads, two 6.4-inch Brooke rifles, and three 10-inch mortars.
  • Battery Cheves – three 8-inch columbiads.
  • Battery Haskell – one 8-inch columbiad, one 8-inch seacoast howitzer, two 42-pdr carronades, one rifled 32-pdr fitted as a mortar, and two 6-pdr field guns.
  • Battery Tatum – one 32-pdr smoothbore and two 24-pdr Austrian howitzers.
  • Battery Ryan – one 32-pdr smoothbore, one rifled 24-pdr, five 24-pdr Austrian howitzers.
  • Redoubt No. 1 – one 8-inch columbiad and one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Fort Lamar – three 8-inch columbiads, one 32-pdr rifle, two 32-pdr smoothbore, and one 18-pdr smoothbore.
  • Secessionville – one 8-inch siege howitzer, one 42-pdr smoothbore, two 32-pdr rifles, three 32-pdr smoothbores, one 24-pdr rifle, one 24-pdr smoothbore, one rifled 18-pdr, and two 6-pdr field guns.


  • The “New Lines” with six specific battery locations (Battery Seroy was named “Battery No. 0” in this report – two 8-inch columbiads, two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, 8-inch siege howitzer, four 32-pdr smoothbores, eight 24-pdr smoothbores, two 18-pdr smoothbores, two 12-pdr rifles, and three 12-pdr smoothbores.
  • Battery Tynes – two 8-inch columbiads and one rifled 42-pdr.
  • Battery Pringle – two 10-inch columbiads, two 8-inch columbiads, two rifled 42-pdrs, and two rifled 32-pdrs.
  • Fort Trendholm – two 10-inch columbiads, one rifled 8-inch gun, two rifled 42-pdrs, two rifled 32-pdrs, two 32-pdr smoothbores, two 24-pdr smoothbores, and six 6-pdr field guns.

Covering the approaches to Charleston from the southwest, via the Edisto River:


  • Battery Washington – one 32-pdr smoothbore, one 24-pdr smoothbore, and one 18-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Haig – two 24-pdr smoothbores.
  • Battery Wilkes – one 24-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Geddes – one 24-pdr smoothbore.
  • Battery Palmer – one 8-inch columbiad, two 32-pdr smoothbores, two 24-pdr smoothbores, and one 12-pdr smoothbore.
  • Overflow works – one 32-pdr smoothbore, three 24-pdr smoothbores, and one 12-pdr smoothbore.

Further to the southwest, along the Charleston & Savannah Railroad:

  • Church Flats – two 12-pdr smoothbores and one 8-inch shell gun.
  • Pineberry – one 32-pdr smoothbore and one 4.62-inch rifle.
  • Willstown – one 32-pdr smoothbore, one rifled 24-pdr, and two 3.5-inch Blakely rifles.
  • Caw Caw – two 24-pdr smoothbore.
  • Stock’s Causeway – one 12-pdr smoothbore and one 4.75-inch smoothbore siege gun.
  • Ashepoo battery – one 24-pdr rifle, one rifled 18-pdr, and one rifled 12-pdr.
  • Burnett’s – one 4.62-inch rifle, two rifled 32-pdrs and one 32-pdr smoothbore.
  • Dawson’s Bluff – one 24-pdr smoothbore and one 3-inch rifle.

Beyond those works, curiously Gonzales reported a battery at Red Bluff, which had been abandoned in December including one 8-inch Columbiad and two 24-pdr rifled guns.  Those guns were withdrawn, with great effort, by Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry after the fall of Savannah.  Likewise, Gonzales listed two 24-pdr Austrian howitzers and one 24-pdr flank howitzer at Old Pocotaligo, which had been withdrawn a few days before the report’s date.

In Florida, the Confederates maintained works on the Appalacicola River (five 32-pdr smoothbores and six 24-pdr smoothbores) and St. Mark’s (two 32-pdr rifles and two 32-pdr smoothbores).

In addition to those listed above, Gonzales noted twenty 6-pdr guns, six James rifles, and two 12-pdr howitzers distributed around the department at fixed positions in undesignated posts.

The cannon listed in Gonzales’ January 19 report were all fixed in fortifications.  While some weapons were field guns or could be adapted for field use, in most cases the garrisons lacked sufficient equipment and horses to move them with a field army.  In an earlier report, dated January 6, 1865, Gonzales detailed the field batteries in the department:

  • 14th Battalion Georgia Artillery, Company B, Captain Ruel W. Anderson, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Georgia Regulars Battalion, Company C, Captain A. Smith Barnwell, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Beaufort Light Artillery, Captain H.M. Stuart, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Chatham Light Artillery, Captain John F. Wheaton, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Chesnut Light Artillery, Captain Frederick C. Schulz, four 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Georgia Regulars Battalion, Company B, Captain Charles Daniell, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Palmetto Artillery, Battery G, Captain W.L. DePass, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Furman Light Artillery, Captain William E. Earle, one 12-pdr Napoleon, two 12-pdr howitzers, and one 10-pdr Parrott.
  • German Artillery, Company A, Captain F.W. Wagener, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Bachman’s German Artillery, Captain W.K. Bachman, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Guerard’s (Georgia) Battery, Captain John M. Guerard, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Inglis Light Artillery, Captain William E. Charles, four 6-pdr field guns.
  • Kilcrease Light Artillery, Captain F.L. Villepigue, two 12-pdr howitzers and two 6-pdr field guns.
  • Lafayette Light Artillery, Captain J.T. Kanapaux, four 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Leon Light Artillery, Captain Robert H. Gamble, two 12-pdr howitzers and two 3-inch rifles.
  • Louisiana Guard Artillery, Captain Camille E. Girardey, four 12-pdr Napoloens and two 3.5-inch Blakely rifles.
  • Marion Light Artillery, Captain Edward L. Parker, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Milton Light Artillery, Company A, Captain Joseph L. Dunham, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Milton Light Artillery, Company B, Captain Henry F. Abell, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Orleans Guard Artillery, Captain G. LeGardeur, Jr., two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Georgia Regulars Battalion, Company A, Captain J.A. Maxwell, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Santee Light Artillery, Captain Christopher Gaillard, two 6-pdr field guns and two 3-inch rifles.
  • Terrell Light Artillery, Captain John W. Brooks, four 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Waccamaw Light Artillery, Captain Mayham Ward, two 12-pdr howitzers and two 6-pdr field guns.
  • Wagner Light Artillery, Captain Charles E. Kanapaux, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 12-pdr howitzers.
  • Washington (South Carolina) Light Artillery, Captain George H. Walter, two 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts.
  • Section supporting Colonel Colcock’s cavalry, Lieutenant Richard Johnson, two 12-pdr Napoleons.

So the field batteries included fifty-nine Napoleons, five 10-pdr Parrotts, four 3-inch rifles, two Blakely rifles, twenty-eight 12-pdr howitzers, and ten 6-pdr field guns.  This gave Lieutenant-General William Hardee 108 cannon to support the mobile forces charged with opposing Sherman’s advance into South Carolina.

In total, 322 fixed and 108 field artillery pieces opposed the Federals as the embarked on the march into South Carolina.  In Sherman’s two wings, the Federals brought only 68 field guns.  Yet, much like they say about real estate, when it comes to artillery on the battlefield it is all about “location, location, location.”  With less infantry and cavalry to oppose the Federals, the Confederates could not bring their numerical advantage in artillery to bear.

(Gonzales’ reports appear in OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 992 and 1024-6.)

Confederates start work on Fort Trenholm, the last important addition to Charleston’s defenses

On September 13, 1864, Major-General Samuel Jones sent, by way of his Assistant Adjutant-General, an order to Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson, commanding the Second and Sixth Military Districts of South Carolina:

General: The engineers are just about commencing the erection of a work on John’s Island opposite Battery Pringle. The force on James Island has been very much reduced, and if the enemy attempt to drive away the working parties, as they probably will, they may succeed, unless assistance is given by you.

The major-general commanding, therefore, directs you to send to this point as large a cavalry force as you can to protect the working parties and keep up a picket-line as near Legareville as practicable to guard against any sudden advance of the enemy, and prevent the escape of the negroes employed. If you can do so, send also a section of artillery with orders to retire into the new works; if forced back the cavalry to retire by the river road on John’s Island.

The fortification mentioned in this order would eventually receive the name “Fort Trenholm.”  If you’ve been following my descriptions of the Charleston defenses, as they evolved 150 years ago, you are familiar maps such as this:

Fort Trenholm

You see Fort Trenholm on the far left and on the west side of the Stono River. In the past, I’ve displayed these maps with the caveat that the maps depicted the final state of works around Charleston.  Well, this was the last major fortification added to the Confederate lines defending Charleston.  Now I can say, the map depicts what was there 150 years ago as we’ve caught up!

As described in the order, Fort Trenholm complemented Battery Pringle.  During all the activity in July 1864, the Confederates realized just what Rear-Admiral Dahlgren observed – if the Federals had the forces to occupy John’s Island, they could make Battery Pringle untenable. So this addition to the far right of the Confederate line secured a vulnerable flank.  When completed, any Federal warships attempting to move up the Stono River would have a crossfire to contend with.  Not unlike that which caused the capture of the USS Isaac Smith in January 1863.

Robertson’s orders required him to secure John’s Island with a picket line down to Legareville during the construction of the works.  In part, that was to keep the Federals from interfering, but also to prevent the escape of laborers employed in the work.  But for the most part, the Federals, with limited resources, were not in a position to contest this addition to the line.

Being the last major fort built outside Charleston, Fort Trenholm never received a full complement of guns.  But despite being built so late in the war, the works survived and is still there today, just north of the Charleston Airport:

While protected within the boundaries of the airport, unfortunately its location makes close inspection rather difficult.  But it is there, as a mark of war.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 622-3.)

“The plan is well worth considering”: Another Dahlgren plan to take Charleston

The summer months of 1864 marked a full year for Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren in command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  Originally his assignment was to command the monitors operating against Charleston, with the objective to redeem some of the Navy’s prestige lost with the failed ironclad attack on Fort Sumter (in April 1863).  With the death of Rear-Admiral Andrew H. Foote, before either man arrived in the department, Dahlgren instead took command of the squadron. But Dahlgren’s objective remained – Fort Sumter thence Charleston.

Through the long summer campaign that followed and the fall bombardments, Dahlgren’s objective stared back defiantly.  Through the winter months, around the interruption due to his son’s death, Dahlgren offered several plans to gain Charleston, to no avail.  To gain Charleston either Dahlgren had to risk the monitors or support an Army offensive to bypass the Confederate harbor defenses.  He avoided the former, but continued to propose the later.  And in the Army’s view, the route to Charleston promised to be a risky and prolonged campaign.  So every time Dahlgren proposed an advance across James Island, the Army’s response relied on the Army’s information on the subject.  Dahlgren could not offer a rebuttal.   That changed in July 1864, as Dahlgren went ashore on James Island during Major-General John Foster’s operations there.  And he came back with what he felt was proof his plan would work.  In a report to the Secretary of Navy, Guideon Wells, he put down details of this plan on August 1, 1864.  This report was, in part, a summary of operations in July to include naval support of Foster’s operations.  But most of the text focused on this plan to turn the Confederates out of Charleston.

On further consideration, I believe that with 10,000 good soldiers added to the present force we could turn the rebel defense on James Island and reach Charleston, and I observe from the rebel papers that the idea was apprehended by them.

If, during the lull before Richmond, General Grant could spare the men for three weeks, I feel sure that the rebels could be so disturbed here as to assist him and General Sherman by dragging off force from Richmond.

This sketch will explain: “P-S” is the rebel line of works extending from the Stono River to the marsh separating James Island from Folly Island.  Battery Pringle (“P”) is a regular earthwork of 8 guns, with bombproofs and full traverses.  A little farther is battery Tynes, with 5 guns, both carefully built.  Secessionville is on the left; its strength was tried by General Benham in 1862; there are intermediate works.  “A” is our advanced position from Folly Island. The ground between is controlled and picketed by the rebels, but not held in force, and they (on it) fall back to the lines when pushed vigorously. “B” was the position of our left under General Hatch.


The fleet held the river and connected our right and left; it was in fact the center of operation; the channel is very narrow and has just water to pass a monitor.

“C” is the extreme of a narrow belt of woods extending from Mr. Paul Grimball’s house below the bend.  Here I offered to plant a battery of ten 100-pounders or XI-inch guns, which could be done unperceived under cover of the woods, and silence Pringle and Tynes (distant 1,700 yards); this done two monitors would move up and enfilade the line.

It was indispensable, however, that the position at “B” should be held securely, or the naval battery at “C” would be lost; the monitors once above Pringle would sweep the ground in front of “B.”

Ten thousand men could be moved without baggage in three days by water from Fortress Monroe, and the blow struck quick as lightning.

Pringle and Tynes once treated as designed, the troops could cross from “B” to their rear and render the rebel lines useless.

I have seen nothing that promises so well with so small a force, and the rebels are unprepared for such an exigency; they certainly were so when we held the ground as indicated.  As it was, General Hatch did actually reach “B,” but as he moved obliquely across John’s Island from the Edisto, the rebels used the time to collect and were in force, so that after two or three conflicts it was deemed best to retire, which was done to an engineer’s wharf in the rear of the fleet; the men were embarked without a shot fired at them. I held position until the next day. General Schimmelfennig had advanced from “A” and drove the rebels vigorously before him, seizing two cannon; the ground between his front and the rebel line being swept continually by the guns of the fleet, he was not disturbed.

The land movements proposed were largely repeats of previous operations on John’s Island.  The geography of that island made direct movements exposed to Confederate flank attacks, while constraining Federal movements to narrow corridors.

The plan is well worth considering, and if undertaken by a column of good troops, will, I feel sure, endanger Charleston and produce corresponding effect. General Foster does not consider it feasible with the small force he has.  I feel sure of my part.

By the time this report reached Washington, D.C. the Army was in the process of reducing the troops in the department, not increasing.  The presence of Confederates in the lower Shenandoah was at that moment in time the pressing concern.  As Chambersburg burned, Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant was less interested in opportunities – fleeting opportunities – outside Charleston.  Grant had already weighed in on the issue months before.  Foster was to demonstrate and remain active, but not take up major offensive operations.

And for what it was worth, Foster did not share Dahlgren’s optimism for operations on John’s Island.  Very unlikely for the Confederate batteries to fall after a short siege.  Nor for the Confederates to simply give up the approaches to Charleston.  There were, of course, a couple more belts of defenses between the lines mentioned by Dahlgren and the city.  If the plan were to go forward, Foster would need to feel sure of his part.  Clearly Foster had a better grasp of the situation.

(Citation from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 591-2.)

Grant killed! Withdraw from Petersburg! Sherman defeated at Atlanta!: Deserters say the darnedest things

The discipline of military intelligence requires a capable staff with the ability to analyze a wide body of information to determine an accurate situational picture.  All kidding about the oxymoron aside, military intelligence is vital to operations.  Armies that move without good intelligence end up on the History Channel for all the wrong reasons.

Now consider yourself one of the officers on Major-General John Foster’s staff at Hilton Head, detailed to look at reports and other information pertaining to Confederate activities.  On this day (July 28) in 1864, a report from Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig might have crossed your path.  Writing to Captain William L.M. Burger, Assistant Adjutant-General for the Department of the South, Schimmelfennig included a summary from interrogation of Confederate deserters:

I have the honor to report that on the night of the 25th to the 26th instant, 1 sergeant and 3 privates of the First South Carolina Artillery (Companies E and K) deserted from Fort Johnson and, crossing the marsh, were picked up by our boat infantry near Paine’s Dock.  In the way of general information they state that the news of General Grant’s being killed was first given by a deserter from our army, and afterward claimed to be extracted from the Northern papers. One of them had heard that Grant’s army had withdrawn from in front of Petersburg. From General Sherman the news of the 22d and 23d was that he had been severely repulsed and beaten after having attacked Atlanta, and that he had lost several thousand prisoners and twenty-two pieces of artillery. No news of interest is given with regard to the district.

So if you are analyzing information and this is your artifact, where do you start?  Grant’s dead?  Wouldn’t that have been in all the papers?  Great defeats at Petersburg and Atlanta?  Short of an alternative history novel, how could such stories take root?

This report raises the question of how accurate information from deserters was, in general.  Looking at this particular incident, I wonder about the nature of these deserters.  Were they simply fed up with the situation and deserted?  Perhaps lesser quality soldiers who received some “encouragement” to leave (every command has at least one sergeant who it could do without)?  Or were these men sowing stories deliberately under some deception plan?  No way of saying without knowing names and other details.  But I would lean towards the first possibility. (And don’t think that because I only list three, there were not more possibilities there!)

So what would that say about information from these deserters?  Put more than a grain of salt to anything they say.

In the same paragraph, however, Schimmelfennig continued with the reports from the deserters.  And now offered details about the Confederate activities on James Island:

I seem to have about the same troops on my front that I had before the late movements on James and John’s Islands. The deserters state that the fatigue parties seen around Johnson and Simkins are not engaged in putting up any new works, nor inclosing or in any way changing the old ones, but merely in carrying on the usual repairs. They also state that the enemy are constantly expecting an assault of Fort Sumter as well as another attack on Johnson. At Fort Sumter the garrison of about 250 men is considered capable of holding it. At Fort Johnson five companies of heavy artillery are behind the breast-works every night, one to serve the guns, the other four used as infantry; one company of Black’s cavalry regiment also reports at Fort Johnson for duty every night.

Given the rather outrageous items in the first half of the paragraph, do any of these details carry weight?

Schimmelfennig continued in his report to provide a second paragraph.  The information in that paragraph lacks direct attribution, but we can assume included some information from deserters along with information derived from other sources.   And there are lots of details therein:

On Thursday last, the 21st instant, Captain Mitchel, of the First South Carolina Artillery, who has for some time past been in command of Fort Sumter, was killed by a shell from our batteries. The garrison at Fort Sumter is reported not to have been relieved for a month past, owing to our heavy bombardment. One of our deserters was at Fort Pringle during our late operation on Stono, and states that the fire of the navy was very destructive. All the heavy guns, with the exception of one smooth-bore, were disabled. A 7-inch rifled Brooke, which they brought there during the action, was no sooner placed in position than it was dismounted by our fire. The bomb-proof of Pringle proved very poor, our balls penetrating to the wood-work. They had heard the loss on James Island estimated at 200 killed and wounded. Another of the deserters, who was at Fort Johnson when we attacked it on the morning of the 3d, reports that almost all the troops had been taken away from there on the 2d; that until nearly morning of the 3d there were not more than 40 or 50 men in Johnson. About 2 a.m. of the 3d, the two companies of the First South Carolina Artillery, who only had been sent as far away as Legaré’s Point, were ordered back to Johnson, and arrived in time to repel the attack. Even with these two companies they say there were not more than 200 men, if as many, in Johnson and Simkins, and that if our whole force had landed they might undoubtedly have taken the two forts. These deserters are well fed and clothed but report that the troops have not been paid for the last seven months, and there is much dissatisfaction among them. They heard that our general and field officers confined in Charleston are in a house at the corner of Broad and Rutledge streets, near Chisolm’s Mill.

Looking back 150 years, and knowing what we know now, some of these details are accurate.

So, put your “intelligence analyst” hat on here.  How do you separate the “Grant was killed” from “Mitchel was killed” information?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 196-7.)

The Defenses of James Island: May 1864 – Part 2, the West and North Lines

Continuing from Part 1, looking at the May 1864 condition of the Confederate works on James Island, as reported by Major George Upshur Mayo, I turn now to the west side of the island:


While the works on the east side protected the harbor and fronted Federal batteries on Morris Island, those on the west side defended approaches through the marshes and the Stono River.  Armament of these works reflected the different missions.  Most of these works were part of the “new lines” formed along the Old Cross-Roads Line from the previous year.


On the left of the Confederate line (right on the map), a series of works around Secessionville anchored this line.  These included Fort Lamar and other bastions built over the first half of the war, and tested by the Federals in 1862.  Lieutenant-Colonel Welsman Brown commanded that part of the line.  Companies B and K, 2nd South Carolina Artillery manned these works, under Captain J.W. Lancaster and Captain H.C. Culbreath, respectively – a total of eight officers and 164 men.  Armament included three 8-inch shell guns, three 32-pdr rifles, five 32-pdr smoothbores, two 24-pdr rifles, one 24-pdr smoothbore, one 18-pdr smoothbore, one 24-pdr howitzer, and two iron 6-pdr field guns.  In the magazines were nearly 1370 projectiles, not counting a substantial quantity of canister and grapeshot.  But this was deemed insufficient, and Brown complained his requisitions went unanswered. Mayo noted an unequal number of cartridges and projectiles.  Furthermore, many of the projectiles were corroding, for the lack of protective lacquer coatings.

New Lines:  “Generally in fair order; the guns being all in serviceable condition, but these and the carriages, as well as the projectiles, require paint and lacquer.”  Ammunition chests in the works were defective, allowing corrosion and weathering of rounds.  And the parapets required sodding.  Several companies from the 2nd South Carolina Artillery manned the line.  Working in numerical order (left to right on the map), these works were:

  • No. 1 – Lieutenant George P. Bush, with a detachment from Company G.  Armed with one 8-inch siege howitzer, two 24-pdr smoothbore guns, two 12-pdr smoothbore guns, and one 12-pdr rifle.
  • No. 2 – Captain G.W. Stallings, with the remainder of Company G.  3 officers and 125 men.  One 8-inch shell gun, one 8-inch seacoast howitzer, two 32-pdr smoothbores, and one 24-pdr smoothbore.
  • No. 3 – Captain J.B. Humbert, commanding Company I, with 4 officers and 99 men.  One 8-inch siege howitzer, two 24-pdr smoothbores, and three 18-pdr smoothbores.
  • No. 4 – Lieutenant B.M. Shuler, commanding Company F, with 95 men.  One 8-inch seacoast howitzer, two 32-pdr smoothbores, and two 24-pdr smoothbores.
  • No. 5 – Captain W. H. Kennedy, commanding Company H, with 3 officers and 80 men.  Two 24-pdr smoothbores, one 12-pdr smoothbores, and one Austrian 24-pdr howitzer.

This line supported a series of picket posts, which I’ve mentioned but not examined in detail, which extended into the marshes and islands south of James Island.  Mayo did not consider those pickets in his report.

Battery Pringle:  “… in very good order in every respect….” except for some replacement fittings required for a couple of carriages.  Three officers and 71 men manned the heaviest weapons on the west end of the line.  To cover the Stono River, Battery Pringle had one 10-inch columbiad, one 8-inch columbiad, two 8-inch shell guns, two 42-pdr rifles, and two 32-pdr rifles.  The magazines included 90 10-inch shot, 143 10-inch shells, 98 8-inch shot, 167 8-inch shells, 119 42-pdr conical shot, 59 42-pdr bolts, 44 42-pdr shells, 269 32-pdr bolts, 39 32-pdr conical shot, and 60 32-pdr conical shells.  Battery Pringle had over 8600 pounds of powder, loose or in cartridges.

Battery Tynes:  “… cannot be considered in good order and safe….” The primary defect was insufficient protection for the magazine.  Lieutenant J.D. Ford, though on detached service, commanded a garrison of three officers and 58 men. The armament consisted of one 8-inch columbiad, one 42-pdr rifle, and three 32-pdr rifle.  One additional 32-pdr rifle awaited mounting.  The magazines included 74 8-inch shells, 155 8-inch solid shot, 199 42-pdr bolts, 36 42-pdr shells, 28 32-pdr shells, 39 32-pdr conical shot, and 344 32-pdr bolts along with 5275 pounds of powder in cartridge bags.

By May 1864, the works on the north end of James Island were of lesser importance to the overall defense.  Armament and manning reflected that shift of priority.


Fort Pemberton:  Lieutenant W.S. Richardson commanded three officers and 48 men.  Armament was but two 32-pdr rifles and two 32-pdr smoothbores.  The garrison needed new implements and a replacement carriage.  But Mayo was unable to visit the magazine, because “the ordnance sergeant in charge had the keys at Fort Sumter.”  Clearly nobody at Fort Pemberton was expecting an attack.  Mayo did not mention any artillery mounted in the works behind Fort Pemberton or the status of those works.

In addition to the garrisons and artillery in the works, James Island’s defenders had three mobile batteries:

  • Chatham (Georgia) Light Artillery – Captain John F. Wheaton.  Four Napoleons, three officers and 104 men present for duty.  One carriage needed repairs.  And the battery’s horses were worn down from recent service in Florida.
  • Company A, 1st South Carolina Artillery – Captain F.D. Blake.  Four Napoleons, three officers and 87 men present for duty.  Likewise the battery’s horses were in poor condition.
  • Company B, South Carolina Siege Train – Captain S.P. Smith.  Two 8-inch siege howitzers, four officers and 39 men present for duty.  Their horses were in fair condition.

Mayo recommended rotating replacement batteries to James Island, allowing the light batteries to recruit and replace their horses.

Mayo offered one additional comment, reflecting the general situation on James Island:

In consequence of the excessive fatigue, attendant upon the unusually severe picket and other duty, to which the troops on James Island have for days past been subjected, some of the commands having been up for three or four nights consecutively, I did not cause them to appear upon parade or drill. Many of the commands could not parade more than one-third or one-fourth of their effective strength. They are all old troops and are disciplined and drilled in heavy and light artillery, and the camp police very fair, invariably under the circumstances named.

While the Charleston theater saw no major operations of the level seen in Virginia and Georgia during the spring of 1864, the cumulative effects of what amounted to a ten month campaign took a toll on the men.  Since the previous July with the Federal attack on Morris Island, scarcely a day passed without some firing, skirmishing, or shelling.   There was always something happening around Charleston.

(Mayo’s report appears in OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 505-513.)